10 Jun 2013

Landsburg Calls Out Latest Krugman Smear

Austerity, Krugman, Steve Landsburg 26 Comments

I was starting to get mildly annoyed at Steve Landsburg, because he’s been very infrequently posting on his blog lately, and when he does, it’s math riddles, rather than economic analysis. But all is forgiven because in his latest two posts (here and here) Steve defends Heritage Foundation scholar Salim Furth–whom Steve apparently knew at the University of Rochester, so he took the smear personally I think–from Krugman’s character assassination at his blog.

If you’re interested in this Krugman-Bites-Right-Winger non-newsworthy story, you can go read Steve’s posts. To sweeten the pot, let me entice you with Steve’s best line: “Which brings us to the other reason these numbers differ: Furth’s come from the historical record, while Senator Whitehouse’s come from somebody’s ass.”

However, as much as I like Steve’s treatment, I feel like Spock watching the flight pattern of Khan: “He is intelligent, but inexperienced.” Steve is open to the alternate hypotheses that (a) Krugman dishonestly endorsed Whitehouse’s reading of the OECD data, or (b) Krugman smeared Furth without really checking the numbers.

But there’s a third explanation, and one which I think is closer to the truth: Krugman didn’t bother checking the data, and carefully framed his post such that he technically didn’t lie. Look again closely at how Krugman worded his post:

OK, this is really shocking: a Heritage Foundation economist has been accused of presenting false, deliberately misleading data and analysis to the Senate Budget Committee.

What’s so shocking? Not the false, misleading data and analysis — that’s SOP at Heritage …. What’s shocking is that they got called on it, in real time.

See? Krugman technically isn’t saying, “A Heritage Foundation economist just presented deliberately misleading data.” No, Krugman said–quite correctly–that the Heritage Foundation economist had been accused of doing so, and Krugman backed up his claim with a link to the accusation.

* * *

OK dropping the cuteness, the Keynesians really were sloppy on this one. Look at the Wonk Blog post on which Krugman relied. Its author, Dylan Matthews, had to cross out a whole paragraph (go look) because he falsely accused Furth of dividing by actual GDP, instead of “potential” GDP (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld and I would say), and Matthews also reproduced the ridiculous Whitehouse chart, which showed (for example) that Ireland had a “fiscal consolidation” of 95 percent of GDP, which is pretty big if you think about it.

One final point: It’s really amazing to me that in this fiscal policy debate, when someone adopts a convention for choosing baselines of deficits by comparing an alleged “austerity” budget to government deficits at the height of an unprecedented boom, that this is taken as prima facie evidence of deliberate deception. Let me make sure you got that: After you take away all of the simple mistakes in the critics’ allegations against Furth, it seems the one bit of spaghetti that sticks to the wall is that he had the audacity to compare government deficits recently in Europe, with levels in 2006-2007, and since (at least in a lot of countries) it is higher even as a percentage of “potential” GDP, Furth was saying this isn’t actual austerity. And for making that point–with clearly labeled charts, as far as I have been able to determine–he is being accused of “deliberately misleading” Congress in his testimony. The episode reminds me of the time Krugman bit off Veronique de Rugy’s head for having the audacity to report to readers the actual budgets of various European governments. You see, the poor rubes out there in the blogosphere can’t be expected to understand those numbers; they need Krugman to interpret them first. Someone reporting actual budget numbers, in a debate about government spending, is deliberately misleading you.

Oops one last thing: The people in the comments at Steve’s blog, who are expecting Krugman to apologize to Furth, are cracking me up. Remember kids, Krugman recently wrote (in the context of the health care/insurance debate): “But bad-faith arguments don’t deserve a civil response, and if the attempt to be civil gets in the way of exposing the bad faith, civility itself becomes part of the problem.” So I’m not going to be looking for an apology at the NYT blog.

26 Responses to “Landsburg Calls Out Latest Krugman Smear”

  1. Brent says:

    Krugman knows that his confident style is his selling point. If he starts apologizing, he ceases to entertain his audience. I think he is aware of that at some level. Most people are reading his NYT column for partisan consumption and perhaps the feeling that they are smart because they read something witty – there are very few who seriously care about and/or have the time and ability to get into depths of the topics he discusses.

    Krugman, whether he likes it or not, has to become like the Limbaugh’s, etc. that I’m sure he would claim to loathe, in order to succeed in his latest career move.

  2. Dan says:

    It’s almost like Krugman is a partisan hack.

  3. Teqzilla says:

    waiting on that Kuehn spin

  4. Teqzilla says:

    I need that Kuenian Klarification of what Krug was really saying.

  5. RPLong says:

    Your 3rd explanation is really no different than Landsburg’s (b).

  6. jimmyk says:

    I don’t think the technical “defense” of Krugman is sound. This phrase: “What’s so shocking? Not the false, misleading data and analysis” does not refer to an accusation, but clearly refers to Furth’s work as false. Krugman doesn’t get off the hook here.

  7. Transformer says:

    You sometime feel like you need a lawyer when reading krugman’s posts but when he says “What’s so shocking? Not the false, misleading data and analysis…”, isn’t he actually characterizing the Furth data as “false and misleading” rather than just implying it ?

  8. Bob Murphy says:

    OK you guys have a point, but:

    (A) I really do think Krugman worded his post like that, intentionally.

    (B) The motivation for me to go that route was entertainment, as opposed to actually getting into the mechanics of Krugman’s psyche.

    (C) I didn’t spell out Landsburg’s choice (b) enough to distinguish it from my own, but what I meant was: Landsburg is making it sound like Krugman either deliberately lied, or was so careless that he honestly didn’t know he was repeating a false accusation. And I’m saying I think Krugman didn’t actually lie (so (a) is out), but that he knew full well he was reporting a smear that might be untrue, so to cover himself he focused on the accusation itself, rather than its content.

  9. Matt M says:

    This tactic has become more and more common in recent years. It started out on message boards, then spread to blogs, and now even the mainstream media is using it.

    Want to smear someone on the other side? Just get someone mildly well-known (even better if they work for some sort of government agency) to *accuse* them of doing something bad. Then you can write about it as if it were an actual fact, but carefully sprinkle in the words “accused” “allegedly” “im just asking the question” or “people are saying.” You make your point with the smear, and technically aren’t lying about anything, even if the guy is completely innocent.

    Example: “Even some of his own friends (link to Tom Woods blog post) are now alledging that known libertarian/anarchist economist Bob Murphy is actually a zombie. Would it really surprise anyone to learn that someone with such base ideas is actually a mindless automoton roaming the planet in an unending quest to feast on the brains of others? He certanily doesn’t have one of his own.”

    And just like that, I get to smear Murphy in public, while at the same time, carefully avoiding *actually calling him a zombie myself.*

    • Yancey Ward says:

      The tears of laughter have ruined my keyboard.

    • valueprax says:

      I think this might be an example of what you’re talking about, look at headline versus first graf:

      Southern Baptists condemn Boy Scouts over admission of gays
      Fox News – ‎2 hours ago‎
      HOUSTON – The nation’s largest Protestant denomination stopped short of calling for its member churches to boycott the Boy Scouts, but voiced strong opposition to acceptance of gay scouts – with a top church leader predicting at the annual gathering of …

  10. Ken Pruitt says:

    This just proves yet again that Krugman isn’t really worth the time that people are investing in him. For god sakes, the man doesn’t even bother thoroughly looking at the data before spewing.

    Oh, and Bob, he actually did accuse Heritage of intentionally misleading people. “What’s so shocking? Not the false, misleading data and analysis — that’s SOP at Heritage …. What’s shocking is that they got called on it, in real time.”

    SOP at Heritage? Seriously? The only person I know this to be SOP for is Paul Krugman….

    • Jason B says:

      The thing that gets me is that he works for one of the most respected news sources on the planet, and the level of professionalism he displays to anyone who isn’t perfectly aligned with his view of the world is essentially castigated as a rube, or in some cases downright evil. And then he goes on to make the case that this lack of professionalism is purposeful, that he intentionally conducts himself in this manner as a means for which to make people he disagrees with to look bad. So my point here is not that he lacks professionalism as a general characteristic, but that he’s specifically going out of his way to be unprofessional. That level of arrogance absolutely astounds me, and the fact he gets away with it at such a reputable news outlet is baffling.

  11. David Friedman says:


    You have just provided me with the latest “quote of the month” for my website.

  12. Ken B says:

    I do not agree Bob, and I am as you have seen a keen language lawyer. But Krugman’s line, “Not the false, misleading data and analysis — that’s SOP at Heritage …. What’s shocking is that they got called on it, in real time” is clearly an endorsement of the claim that “they” got called on false data. “Called on it” is caught, not accused. “They” is Heritage, and must refer to Furth, that being the only alleged “real time” example north, south, east or west of the Pecos. So Landsburg is right, Krugman endorsed the allegation, quite explicitly.

  13. Major_Freedom says:

    Considering how Krugman first referred to the accusation, but then made the same accusation himself, I think the likely explanation is that Krugman seems to have just believed the accusation, without checking the numbers, because he thought it happened to make someone who (a) is a Heritage Institute economists and (b) dares label the prevailing situation as something other than “austerity”, to look bad/wrong/immoral. That was enough.

    “You see, the poor rubes out there in the blogosphere can’t be expected to understand those numbers; they need Krugman to interpret them first. Someone reporting actual budget numbers, in a debate about government spending, is deliberately misleading you.”

    Since every interpretation/understanding of historical data requires, indeed presupposes and utilizes (whether the historian is aware of it or not) an a priori theory, and since Krugman does not understand this technical point about theory and history, we can say that every interpretation of history that doesn’t use Keynesian theory is going to be a deliberately “misleading interpretation” in the eyes of Krugman. Every “non-Keynesian” theory utilized by another, for not dishonest reasons, is a person who is morally suspect, or lacking in character, rather than just utilizing a false theory due to heretofore unperceived contradictions in one’s premises.

  14. joe says:

    The Heritage economist refused to defend his statements during the hearing. Why are people wasting time defending him? He provided misleading testimony and got called out on it. Now two weeks later, someone tries to defend him? Why the wait? Let memories fade a bit?

    Sen. Whitehouse challenges Heritage scholar on austerity

    • Ken B says:

      Wow is that ever slimy.

      You are probably the slimiest commenter I’ve ever seen on this blog. And on this blog that’s saying a lot.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        Joe you had better refute Ken B within the next 13 days, or his accusation stands.

    • Ken Pruitt says:

      As many of the comments have pointed out, Sen. Whitehouse is quoting numbers from 2009-2016 (in the past tense), while the Heritage Foundation’s economist is using numbers from 2007-2012. What the Senator did is incredibly dishonest, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he (essentially) called Furth a liar.

      • Bob Murphy says:

        And it’s even worse than that, Ken Pruitt: He added cumulative figures together, getting the absurd result that e.g. Ireland would have 95% GDP of fiscal consolidation by 2016.

        • Ken B says:

          And he did not show the source to Furth during the hearing either. That’s part of why Joe’s comment is so slimy. Furth did not agree his numbers were wrong in the hearing. He said he would reply in writing and noted the “tenor” was not conducive to an immediate response.

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